Flow, Fissure, Mesh

Video: Reading Marilyn Hacker’s "Fourteen"

This is a test video for a series of video-podcast discussions of poems and of media for my courses this fall. In April, for National Poetry Month, I decided to discuss and then read one of my favourite poems, the sonnet “Fourteen” by Marilyn Hacker. (A blog post here re-types the text of the poem.) There is plenty that I leave out in what I say: the poem is a brilliantly complex and resonant piece of writing, a kind of “presentation piece” as Hacker might have put it. The last line always moves me in ways that are difficult to capture in any formal analysis. And here I don’t really broach the difficult gender-politics that the poem interrogates. I have taught this poem a number of times in first-year lecture courses, introductions to literary studies, so the video is pitched as a kind of introduction to the text.

Dave Douglas HIGH RISK at Performance Works, 28 June 2015

Dave Douglas’s electro-acoustic quartet HIGH RISK offered a dynamic, edgy and intense set at Performance Works (in Vancouver) yesterday evening. Fusing layered, pulse-driven techno with Douglas’s Freddie-Keppard-meets-Freddie-Hubbard, fiercely clarion trumpet lines, HIGH RISK collectively muster an infectiously celebratory and powerful improvised music that’s as danceable as it is creatively provocative. While Douglas has composed a seven-tune repertoire for this new band – which recorded together for the first time on October 10, 2014, in Brooklyn, a session that resulted in their just-released CD on Douglas’s Greenleaf label – and while each member of the ensemble (Douglas on trumpet, Jonathan Maron on electric bass, Mark Guiliana on drums and Shigeto on electronics) contributes heavily to the collaboration, for me the group concept seems to rest on the innovative, wonderfully fractured loops, samples and laptop conjurations of Shigeto, who bopped, leapt and shimmied with joyful abandon behind a tabletop covered in rheostat boxes and circuitry. The sound palette and rhythmic patter he managed to conjure never obscured its synthetic origins but managed amid the electronica to engender a vibrantly zoetic feel: amazing, richly affective sonorities. At one point, he played in duo with Douglas and the intricate immediacy of his approach became apparent, as he built vibrant whorls and cascades of joyful noise. Mark Guiliana’s drumming is brilliantly propulsive, deep in the pocket yet consistently pushing forward; his multidirectional, quickly syncopated incisions through a four-on-the-floor backbeat were nothing short of genius. Jonathan Maron seemed to remain calm and steady throughout the concert, but his bass-lines – by turns warmly lyrical and darkly palpitating – kept the band centred and present. Early in their set, I thought I heard echoes of the bluesy melody of Miles Davis’s “Jean Pierre,” and Douglas definitely quoted the four-note tag from the Miles Davis-John Scofield line “That’s What Happened”: in some ways, HIGH RISK makes a music that might have emerged from Davis’s more progressive or edgy moments in his later years. But this is a music that’s of its own present tense. Some of the most powerful and moving moments came during the last tune, “Cardinals,” an elegiac homage Douglas dedicated to the memory of Michael Brown. “This is a music that’s about love,” he told the audience. Love names the high risk this music wants to take. In the brief liner notes to the CD, Douglas writes that “improvisation transcends barriers between people and genres. Improvisation models the way the world can work.” My colleagues and I in ICASP and IICSI have been thinking, and trying to produce various forms of practice-based research, along these exact lines. The improvised music of HIGH RISK offers one instance of a hugely successful, motivated and engaged co-creativity, laying the contingent and extemporaneous groundwork for a viable human community yet to come.




Jamie Reid, 1941-2015

I have just learned this morning that the poet Jamie Reidhas died. He was, as many know, a co-founder of TISH at UBC in 1961, and played significant role in the revitalization of West Coast Canadian poetry. Deeply engaged as an activist with fostering social change, he spent a number of years out of the poetry circuit, but the 1994 book that marked his return to poetry – Prez: Homage to Lester Young – represents a landmark fusion of verbal music and aesthetic commitment.
 Here is the joy of pure desire which desires nothing
    but to be lost amongst all of the things which are.

Here is a recording of Jamie Reid reading his poetry at Green College, UBC, on January 17, 2013, for the Play Chthonics: New Canadian Readings series.

Samuel Blaser, Francois Houle, Aram Bajakian, Torsten Mueller at Ironworks, Tuesday June 23, 2015

Aram Bajakian, Francois Houle, Samuel Blaser, Torsten Mueller
A five o’clock set at Ironworks on Tuesday opened with the duo of Swiss trombonist Samuel Blaser and Vancouverite François Houle on clarinet, playing music that skirted the boundaries between jazz-inflected improvisation and open-scored new music. This reed-and-slide (Houle’s term) instrumental combination has precedents in Albert Mangelsdorff and Lee Konitz’s Art of the Duo (1988), which built on Konitz’s 1967 Duets, and also – even earlier, and perhaps stylistically a little closer – in Jimmy Guiffre and Bob Brookmeyer’s contrapuntal interplay in trio with Jim Hall in the late 1950s. Samuel Blaser’s fleet, warm tone is closer to Brookmeyer, although he occasionally shares some of Mangelsdorff’s vocalic depth and probing polytonality. Houle, too, has acknowledged some indebtedness to Guiffre’s later, freer musical concepts, although he points to Bill Smith and to John Carter as more compelling antecedents. (Carter’s duos with cornettist Bobby Bradford might also set some textural precedents for Blaser and Houle’s reed-and-slide, as might Gerry Mulligan’s front lines with Brookmeyer and with Chet Baker.) Houle’s playing sometimes recalls Debussy and Messiaen, too, while Blaser – occasionally echoing a little Baroque sackbut – has reframed late Renaissance compositions by Monteverdi, Machaut and DuFay; he and Houle offer a multimodal, polymorphic and richly evocative music.

Francois Houle, Samuel Blaser (The camera seems to have auto-focused 
on the back of pianist Benoit Delbecq’s head — who was sitting in front of me.)

The two-horn line can seem spare and linear, but both Blaser and Houle have a fullness of tone and a sensitivity to space, as well as a willingness to let melody and line resonate and open out into the room. The music builds on close, intimate, mutual listening, mixing counterpoint with thickly vertical harmonizing; playing two clarinets at once, Houle instantaneously concocts Pythagorean-sounding harmonies that make me think of Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s Natural Black Inventions: Root Strata and Kirk’s performances with trombonists Dick Griffin and Steve Turre. I don’t mean, by mentioning all of these other players, to suggest that this music is derivative: Blaser and Houle produce music of striking originality and boldness. But I also hear a deep sense of history and of performative inheritance that locates their work alongside that of some of the greatest and most challenging improvisers of this past century.

Aram Bajakian, Samuel Blaser, Torsten Mueller

         In contrast, guitarist Aram Bajakian and bassist Torsten Müllerfollowed with a freely improvised duet that focused on mesmeric drones. They began with Derek Bailey-like sparse plucking, but soon morphed into sustained overlapping tones, Müller favouring arco to create a singing, low continuo. Aram Bajakian, sitting to the side of the stage on a piano bench, used a few delay pedals to draw looping hums from his strings. I have to say that for a few moments, or minutes, I lost a clear sense of bounded time as I listened; their interactions were hypnotic and intense, even though both had a fairly modest stage-presence, and were more interested in co-creative agency than in self-assertion.  (Interestingly, at a few points in the session police sirens bled through the walls from the streets outside; the musicians, rather than frustrated, appeared willing to respond in kind, drawing the outer world’s aural palette into their own emergent soundscapes.) Blaser joined Bajakian and Müller to make a trio, and again the group primarily concentrated on collective sounding, long, layered lines from which brief shards of melody sometimes emerged, only to submerge again is the collaborative flow. At one point, Bajakian pressed a small motorized wheel into his strings over the pickup to overcome the guitar’s natural decay, developing rich resonances and electrified overtones from the instrument reminiscent of folk violin: concordant depth. Houle returned for a final quartet, a shape-shifting shared composite of the contrapuntal and the harmonic; again, the attention to space seemed paramount, so much so that for the final minutes Müller had stopped playing, bow at his side, intently listening and letting the piece take its course toward mutual silence, as an inspiring set of exemplary, sterling and powerful improvisation drew to a hushed close.
Aram Bajakian (Torsten Mueller in the corner)

Schedule for Time Changes: Improvisation, History and the Body

Time Changes: Improvisation, History and the Body

June 20-21, 2015, Vancouver, British Columbia

UBC Robson Campus Room C100

10am – 5pm Free

Time Changes is an academic symposium including presentations from artists, performers, scholars and community members from across the continent, with keynote talks by percussionist-composer-improvisers Gerry Hemingway and Billy Martin, who are both performing at the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival.

The colloquium will focus on social, cultural and artistic encounters with, and depictions of, time and the times in which we live. What does it mean to create in the moment? What are the implications of keeping time or of transgressing time? How does the human body sound its time and place? Can improvisation bring about tangible social or cultural change?

 


 

Saturday, June 20th

All presentations will take place in UBC Robson Square Room C100.

 

10:00 am

Artist Talk

PrOphecy Sun: The Body, Chance and Improvisation

 

10:45

Panel: Race, Rhythm and History

Emma Cleary, Staffordshire University

Jazz-Shaped Bodies: Mapping Space, Time, and Sound in African American Fiction

 

Barry Long, Bucknell University

Freedom Songs at the Intersection of Jazz and Journalism

 

Brian Jude de Lima, York University

Synth-copated Rhythms: Reanimating Dissonance as a Tool for Rhythmic Prolongation

 

Brent Rowan, Wilfrid Laurier University

The Impact of a Jazz Improvisation Experience on an Amateur Adult Musician’s Mind, Body and Spirit

 

12:30 pm         Catered lunch

 

1:00 pm          

Keynote

Billy Martin: Wandering

 

2:00 pm

Film Screening and Discussion

Ornette: Made in America

Moderated by David Lee, University of Guelph

 

3:30 pm

Artist Presentation

Rupert Common and the Freestyle Rap Alliance: Improvisation in Hip Hop

 


 

Sunday, June 21st

All presentations will take place in UBC Robson Square Room C100.

 

10:00 am

Artist Talk

Julia Úlehla: The Dálava Project: Meditations on (musical) evolution and (cyclic) time: activating past, present, and future through song, body memory, and improvisation

 

10:45 am

Panel: Interfaces – Contact Technologies

Kiran Bhumber and Bob Pritchard, University of British Columbia

Neelamjit Dhillon, California Institute of the Arts

 

12:00 pm

Chapbook and CD Launch

Ammons: A Sheaf of Words for Piano

Kevin McNeilly and Geoff Mitchell

 

12:30 pm      Catered lunch

 

1:00 pm               

Keynote

Gerry Hemingway: Expression in Music: A Look Inside the Personal Language of an Improviser

 

2:00 pm

Panel: Impacts and Changes

Kathe Gray, York University

All time exists in the present: Utopian moments in improvised music making

 

David Lee, University of Guelph

Improvised Music in Canada: High Modernism and the Artists Jazz Band

 

Tom Scholte, University of British Columbia

AYSYNCHRONCITY AND THE EMERGENCE OF MEANING IN THEATRICAL PERFORMANCE: Cybernetically Improvised Performance Texts and their Hermeneutic Impacts

 

3:30 pm

Artist Presentation

Ben Brown and Michelle Lui: MAM Music and Movement Improvisation

 


 

TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival

For the complete Jazz Festival schedule, click here.

 

Innovation Series Concerts (featuring conference presenters)

The Ironworks Studios 235 Alexander Street

 

The Pugs and Crows (Ben Brown)                                   Friday June 19th 9:30 pm

Destroy Vancouver (Billy Martin)                                      Friday June 19th 11:30 pm

Samuel Blaser/ Benoit Delbecq/ Gerry Hemingway      Saturday, June 20th 9:30 pm

Dálava (Julia Úlehla)                                                          Saturday, June 20th 11:30 pm

Paul Plimley/ Joe Williamson/ Gerry Hemingway          Sunday, June 21st 11:30 pm

Elise Partridge: Particulars of Uncertain Provenance

I ended up sitting front and centre on a folding chair at the Vancouver launch for Elise Partridge’s new and last collection, The Exiles’ Gallery, to a packed house on Thursday evening, March 21, at the Cottage Bistro (formerly the Rhizome Café, near the intersection of Kingsway and Broadway). Many writers – connected to or mentored by Elise – as well as members of the English Department at UBC, where she studied and where her husband Steve teaches, turned out, along with fans of her poetry and other community members, to hear a dozen of (mostly) her fellow poets read a poem or two each from the new book and to celebrate her work. Christopher Patton, Rob Taylor, Fiona Tinwei Lam, Rhea Tregebov, Gillian Jerome, George McWhirter, Jordan Abel, Elee Kraalji Gardiner, Caroline Adderson (reading both for herself and for Aislinn Hunter), Barbara Nickel, Elizabeth Bachinsky and Miranda Pearson each chose poems that connected in some way to their relationships with Elise, both personal and poetic. There were a few moments when readers found themselves buffaloed by stifling tears, but most of the texts – while caught up in the pervasively elegiac tug of her poems – drew not toward lament but instead toward the celebration of the particulate textures of both language and experience in which her writing characteristically engages, her finely-attuned pursuit of “one-liners, testaments, inventories, chants, condolences,” aspiring to “see just so much,” both whelming and delicate, risking the fiercely precious, a sharply-faceted and vatic immediacy (see “Waltzing” and “The Alphabet”). Even so, the poems – each producing what she calls “a landing strip for particulars / of uncertain provenance,” and deliberately opening themselves to (her word) love – also frame a tension around their vestigial metaphysics that often feels like a yearning toward absence, not so much to fill it in as to embrace its lyric provocations. In “A Late Writer’s Desk” – a poem issued as a broadside by Anansi to mark the publication of The Exile’s Gallery – she both describes and celebrates the cobbled, awkward and uneven construction of a discarded “escritoire”: “They couldn’t give it away, I guess, / so left it beside the road, / where, obdurate, it warps.” Gesturing, in her allusions in the poem to the doubled play of a Midsummer Night’s Dream, at a Shakespearean mutability that confuses entropy and alchemy, she uncovers in the desk’s decrepitude and in its weathered reabsorption into natural substance, a decreative attention to the work of poiesis, of unmade making. Its surface pollenated by “catkin loads,” the desk as she describes it might seem neglected and abandoned, but in fact it has been both recuperated and redeemed – a kind of “scrap-yard rescue” as her text puts it – by her own poem’s haptic observance: its reciprocity, its attunement, its listening. Uneven, broken surfaces, with “not a board true,” nonetheless manage and can only manage to bear welcoming witness to “the true,” to the small but miraculous uncertainties of our own brief and all-too-human presence in this world. Listening to Elise Partridge’s poetry read aloud by those who cared and who care for her, I felt I might have caught a little of her drift.

The Challenge of Phillis Wheatley (poem)

“Phillis Wheatley frontispiece” by Scipio Moorhead – This image is available from the United States
Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3a40394
I’m currently taking a MOOC from Stanford University Online called “Ten Premodern Poems by Women,” led by Eavan Boland. It’s essentially a poetry appreciation course, fostering a broader sense of women’s essential and often neglected contributions to the canon of English-language poetry. Each week, Eavan Boland introduces a poem, and then offers some historical and biographical – and even a little formal – context, and then discusses the poem with a guest speaker, usually (so far) one of the Wallace Stegner Fellows in poetry from Stanford’s Creative Writing Program. The course is very enjoyable and informative, and taking it is giving me a chance to try to re-connect with the student experience: we have weekly writing assignments, informal responses to each text. In the past few weeks, the prompts for these assignments have invited participants to compose poems of their own, either in the style of the work we’re reading that week or in reaction to the context and themes of a given poem. I had never really looked too closely at the work of Phillis Wheatleybefore – the first poet of African descent to publish in English. The facts of her life are well known: at about seven years old, in 1761, she is stolen from her home in Senegambia and transported on the slave ship Phillis to pre-revolutionary Boston, where she is purchased by Mrs. Susan Wheatley for a “trifle” of either ten pounds or ten dollars; “Phillis” has a gift for languages that her new “family” encourages, and by the time she reaches her teens she excels at poetry; in 1773, around her twentieth birthday, her poems are collected and published (in England, not in Boston) as Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. Read through the lens of our own time, many of these poems can seem deeply troubling, as they appear to praise slavery – in highly conventional late 18th-century style – as a means to Christian salvation:Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain, / May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.” In his 1922 preface to The Book of American Negro Poetry, James Weldon Johnson lamented that

one looks in vain for some outburst or even complaint against the bondage of her people, for some agonizing cry about her native land. In two poems she refers definitely to Africa as her home, but in each instance there seems to be under the sentiment of the lines a feeling of almost smug contentment at her own escape therefrom.

Reading Wheatley now, I feel what we get aren’t outbursts but cracks in the mask, in her formal poetic façade, at which something like an agony, suppressed in the interests of her survival as a child in bondage, briefly shows through. What we have, after all, are the poems of a teenager. After her manumission, when she was 28 or 29, Wheatley is said to have composed another 142 poems, now lost; I can only imagine that some expression of that pain must have found its way into that work, silenced by circumstance. One of the ways to honour Wheatley’s legacy, it seems to me, is to risk writing a little way into that silence: not to speak for her – although, in ventriloquizing her seven-year-old self and transposing her voice into an English she didn’t have at the time, I ‘m aiming at least to gesture at that fraught and awful gap, the racially, culturally and linguistically marked distances of the Middle Passage. (“Yummy,” I discovered, is one of a few English words imported from Wolof, Phillis Wheatley’s native language.) I wrote this piece, torsioning the pentameter/hexameter couplets that were a mainstay of her early style, as an homage and as an attempt to encounter those distances. The challenge of encountering Wheatley, Henry Louis Gates argues, “isn’t to read white, or read black; it is to read.” I wanted at least to begin to address that challenge. And since the poem was submitted to a public forum anyway, I thought I might as well republish it here, myself.


“Phillis Wheatley,” July 1761, about seven years old
I, young in life, by seeming cruel fate 

Was snatch’d from Afric’s fancy’d happy seat . . .
I‘m not sturdy enough. My two loose front teeth
fall out: I make a charm to ward off certain death,
jamming them between tarred planks near the keel
like deciduous tokens. I can’t feel
the ghost of my lost mother’s touch. Wolof
has no such words. Crammed bodies reek; men cough
up on themselves, yoked in rusting collars
to be unlocked only weeks later when we dock.
A lady tours the wharf. For ten pounds or dollars
she gets to become my good Boston mummy.
She gives me an apple. I say, “Yummy.”
She tells me, that’s a funny way to talk,
and makes me leave my carpet-scrap cloak behind,
I imagine because she’s afraid I might trip.
She rechristens me after that bad ship.
If only she knew my true name, I shouldn’t mind.

The Crucified Earth: Jan Zwicky, Robert Bringhurst and Haydn’s ‘Seven Last Words’

Jan Zwicky and Robert Bringhurstcomposed new poetry for a week-long series of performances of Joseph Haydn’s “Seven Last Words” for string quartet, collaborating with a quartet from Early Music Vancouver that included Marc Destrubé and Linda Melsted on violins, Stephen Creswell on viola and Tanya Tomkins on cello. The last concert of the series took place on January 24, 2015, in Pyatt Hall in the Orpheum Annex in downtown Vancouver, with the space arranged as a café with candlelit tables, setting a mood of intimate intensity. Performing Haydn’s Op. 51 presents some unique challenges, not the least of which is what to do with what Bringhurst and Zwicky call in their programme notes “the presence of a text” in a work “designed as a magnificent musical envelope with seven pockets for spoken words.” The seven “words” are “seven short phrases from the Latin bible” that register in the rhythms and phrasings of musical lines, and it’s tempting to hear a form of textual mimesis in Haydn’s music, not unlike (for example) the fourth section of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, in which a “psalm” is delivered as a verbal recitation in the lead melody: “the musical phrases,” Zwicky and Bringhurst note, “rise from the meaning and shape of the text.” This noetic melopoeia seems to be what draws Bringhurst’s ear, in particular, to this work; his poetry recurrently pursues what he has called “the musical density of being.” I’m not sure that Haydn’s classicism would effect quite as much pull, although its measured textures mesh well with the chiseled exactitude of Bringhurst’s sense of line. Zwicky, too, shapes lyrical meshes of the musical and the philosophical in her poetry, and she has mined both Classical and Romantic European musical history for source material for her work.
In a pre-concert interview, Zwicky and Destrubé described the rehearsal process (at Zwicky and Bringhurst’s Quadra Island home), with Zwicky noting how for her, above all else, both poetry and music strove to realize an immediacy and a clarity, that the work could be taken in at “one hearing.” In their programme notes, Bringhurst and Zwicky describe how they developed a more ecumenically ecological set of texts, cued by the lines from the Latin translations of gospels that provided Haydn’s music with its original scaffolding, the seven last words of Christ at his crucifixion; noting that other poets – notably, Mark Strand – have written poems to accompany Haydn’s music, and that performances and recordings of the quartet have included interleaved readings from the biblical texts and other “poems on Christian themes,” they frame a pressing compositional problem:
After all these experiments, and in the face of Haydn’s own wordless eloquence, could there still be something to say? One reason to think there might be is, of course, that the crucifixion has never ceased. Man’s deliberate and vengeful inhumanity to man – and to just about everything else – is no less vivid and casual in the twenty-first century than in the first. So in 2014, when we were invited to supply some words for a performance of Opus 51 by Early Music Vancouver, we said yes. And our theme became what we thought it had to be in our time: the crucifixion of the earth.
This last phrase echoes the title of Zwicky’s award-winning 1999 collection, Songs for Relinquishing the Earth, as well as the text of Bringhurst’s “Thirty Words” (1987), which was revised and expanded in the subsequent decade into an ecologically-focused liturgy, his “Gloria, Credo, Sanctus et Oreamnos Deorum”:
Knowing, not owning.
Praise of what is,
not of what flatters us
into mere pleasure.
Earth speaking earth,
singing water and air,
audible everywhere
there is no one to listen.
(Selected Poems, Gaspereau Press, 159)
The kind of listening Bringhurst both calls for and wants to enact in his work refuses the “mere pleasure” of distraction and pushes instead toward the excoriation and even the extinction of the callous “inhumanity” of the human, an audibility that demands that “no one” be listening, not in the service of nihilism but rather of the dissolution of our domineering egocentrisms. Zwicky can sound, at times, less confrontational, but she is no less exacting in her demand that, as Rilke famous has it, we change our lives: “Learn stillness,” she writes, “if you would run clear.” The clarity of style and the communicative immediacy that she wants in her poetry incline toward just such an attentive stillness, an extinguishing of our all-too-human desires for control and agency: a relinquishing.
         I’m going to concentrate my commentary on the poetry, which I’m recalling from memory (none of the texts is published, and all were newly written for the Haydn) and from whatever notes I managed to take. The string quartet played with lyrical ferocity and focus throughout; their performance was, for me, a marvel of concentration and emotive power – not at all, I have to confess, what I expected from a concert of Haydn. As for the poetry, the first of the seven pieces was a colloquy, a dialogue between the two poets modeled on the polyphonic (that is, multi-voiced) forms of Bringhurst’s “The Blue Roofs of Japan” or “Conversations with a Toad,” or Zwicky’s Wittgenstein Elegies. Both poets exchanged admissions of failure, their mea culpas, with Zwicky intoning how, as human subject, “I” have “failed to let the great breath of you move through me.” Uncannily, the concentrated, collective intake of breath by the members of the string quartet was audible as they launched into Haydn’s music with fierce conviction and palpable energy, making the lines appear to breathe through them. If Zwicky and Bringhurst acknowledged human failure, that loss was answered by the creative drive of the music that followed, a gesture at some form of responsive forgiveness. Bringhurst’s poetic prelude to the second sonata  (“Today shalt thou be with me in paradise,” Luke 23:43) declared that “This is it,” that humanity needs to recognize that paradise is present to us on earth, if we can recognize it. To lead into Sonata III (“Woman, behold thy son,” John 19:26), Zwicky picked up on this same imperative, to behold, to come to awareness, but again stressing the haecceity, the this-ness or the present-ness of the earth as it is, vitally:
Look up.
It’s the sky.
And the rain that is falling
is rain.
(I have no access to the print text: the line breaks are based on how Zwicky paused as she read.) That honouring of things in themselves was counterpointed by Bringhurst’s hard-edged text for Sonata IV (“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46), which began by declaring almost Miltonically that “Hell is the absence of heaven and earth.” Bringhurst also composed the poem for Sonata V (“I thirst,” John 19:28), which again took up a condemnatory tone: “They will take much more than everything you have.” Notably, Bringhurst’s texts often distanced and objured the human – theywill – while Zwicky’s texts tended to emphasize collective complicity – we will . . . . For Sonata VI (“It is finished,” John 19:30), Zwicky offered a list of extinct species, in what was perhaps the most deeply affecting moments of the performance. She also closed out the poetic part of the performance, leading into Sonata VII (“Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit,” Luke 23:46) with a lyrical framing not of guilt or condemnation but of tenderness,
                    a tenderness we can’t imagine
but still recognize, opening
and opening
its hands
(Again, my line breaks – not necessarily Zwicky’s.) That recognition, if only a prayerful gesture toward the relinquishment of shared self, a selflessness we might share at the limits of words, opened into a passionate musical response from the quartet, as the potentially cold edges of Haydn’s calculated classicism evolved into what felt to me almost Steve Reich-likerhythmic loops and cascades: a present-tense music that wanted to open our ears, collectively in that space and that moment, to hope and to possibility.

Vanderpump Rules Third Season Reunion Show, a Preemptive Précis (Poem)

Lisa
Don’t mistake fame or your beauty for mine.
Stassi
Come back, if only for the goat cheese balls.
Jax
Whatever else, the sex was adequate.
Tom Sandoval
Cover-up applies better clean-shaven.
Sheanna
Few become their own crop-topped bridal stylists.
Ariana
Who should be smart enough to know better.
James
Leave him to his posh busboy puppy love.
Katie
Nobody’s fool would motorboat a d.
Stassi
Betrayal wants another bff.
Lisa
Translated, the maid’s name means something pink.
The Other Tom, Tom Schwartz
Marriage gives most guys the jitters, bubba.
Ariana
Check your text messages, smirk and look up.
Jax’s “Therapist”
 The world will always validate your needs.
Peter, Vail, Kristina, Rachel, Shay,etc.
Second-string friends, bit players, fiancés,
third-rate fifth business, wannabes, the rest.
Line Cooks at SUR
(High five: some heinous puta just got fired!)
Katie
No proper girl wants a ring on a string.
Kristen
Your best and only boyfriend is the truth.
Chorus, led by Tom Sandoval
Shut up, Kristen, shut up, shut up, shut up.
Lisa
Who makes the rules should never sign the cheques.


Sleeve Notes for Vanderpump Rules Third Season Reunion Show, a Preemptive Précis

I was unabashedly hooked on the third season of the Bravo reality show Vanderpump Rules, which began its television life two years back as a spin-off of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. I came across this season’s first episode late in 2014 while channel-surfing, and found myself unable to look away. The blurb on the Slice TV website says each week the program offers “yet another explosive wave of shocking betrayals, bold confrontations, and petty grudges,” which sound like reason enough to keep tuned in, but my own fascination and nascent fandom, I’m starting to realize, has less to do with salacious voyeurism and more to do with the pop poetry of their pervasively empty interactions. When Stassi claims she’s been betrayed by Katie, or when Jax recounts his own largely fictional version of some gossip that’s transpired earlier, I find myself at a loss to understand what exactly it is that these people are in fact talking about. Frankly, I don’t think I have ever known what any of them means, or means to say, most of the time. They’re usually talking about talking about nothing. Nothing. But their seemingly shallow and vacuous speech, embedded in what feels like a relentless carrier-wave of romantic pop-culture clichés, is also often tangibly bursting with strange verbal textures, inadvertently startling lines, weird resonances. They seem constantly to be saying nothing, but also to be articulating some emergent poetic language sui generis, to be touching on some shared and common fabric of language as such.
And so I aimed to make a sort of poetry, as a listener and as a committed viewer, out of segments of what they’ve said about each other. The reunion show, part one of which was broadcast this week in Canada – a week behind the States – and part two of which is still pending, saw the actors arranged in an amphitheatrical semi-circle in a room at SUR, as participant-spectators, both viewers and viewed. (Several of them, notably Stassi and Kristen, made careful note that they had “seen the show” – watched themselves on the show – in the interim between filming last summer-fall and this reunion.) The reunion is designed to elicit some degree of critical reflection from members of the group, but really the intention is to aggravate the controversies and to stir up old trouble. It struck me that, in the slippery double displacements of subject and object being staged at this reunion – they comment on themselves commenting on what they say and have said about each other – there were peculiar echoes of the populist aspects of Shakespearean meta-theatre, as well as repositioning of the agonistic choric odes of Euripides or Aeschylus, maybe along the lines of Anne Carson’s skewed anachronies.
My own small project also tries to mimic the Pentametron bot on Twitter: each voice could be rendered in something like an iambic pentameter monostich, an aphoristic reduction of what they might have said, and sort of did, or didn’t. The resulting text would be an aggregate of linked non sequiturs, a sort of compilation. There are no subjects, however, beyond the accretion itself: nothing but sound bytes of fanfiction-mediated personae, their un-voices. Because the poem is assembled from what must be public, fair-use artifacts (along with a hodge-podge of nods to various famous sonnets, to Irving Layton, to Gilligan’s Island and to David Peoples’s Blade Runner script),  I think the piece needs to be published as a blog entry, with all the attendant narcissism of self-publication (which, maybe, fits with the source material). And maybe I’m being pretentious trying to explain myself like this. Because really, who am I to talk?

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